Today's understanding of the Italian Renaissance recognizes the continuity of a number of features from the 15th to the 16th century. This is in contrast to earlier thinking, which maintained that certain major events, such as the discovery of the Americas by Columbus in 1492, marked the beginning of a completely new age that was identifiably "modern". There were turbulent political events that brought about the end of the independent city-states; imperial claims to sovereignty by the French and then Hapsburg rulers; the rise of Protestant reform; stimulating contacts with new cultures; and, simultaneously, a flourishing cultural scene rich in creativity and inventiveness. Such a combination of events is difficult to locate in any other one period. In the Vatican, works by Raphael (1483-1520) and Michelangelo (1475-1564), such as the Stanza delict Segnatura (Room of the Signature) and Sistine Chapel, reflected the current climate of change and were received with wonder by their first observers. The Italian architect, painter, and art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) documented the fortunes of the Renaissance in Rome in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550). Vasari outlined the progression of the Renaissance following the death of Raphael and the sack of Rome in 1527 (the climax of the imperial-papal struggles when imperial forces invaded and devastated the city), its spread throughout Europe, and its variety and complexity. He also wrote of the concern of the art world to establish an understanding of itself, which is confirmed by the number of treatises written on the subject, many of which helped form the aesthetic ideals of the moment. Vasari's Lives also provides an explanation of differences between the art of the 15th century and that of the early 16th, stating that earlier art "lacked that spontaneity which, although based on correct measurement, goes beyond it without conflicting with order and stylistic purity. This spontaneity enables the artist to enhance his work by adding innumerable inventive details." The 15th-century artists had "missed the finer points...ignoring the charming and graceful facility that is suggested rather than revealed in living subjects.... Their works also lacked the abundance of beautiful clothes, the imaginative details, charming colours, many kinds of building and various landscapes in depth." According to Vasari, these qualities were introduced with Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and concluded with Michelangelo, when the climax of the modern phase was reached. For Jacob Burckhardt, a 19th-century Swiss historian, Michelangelo was the first contradictory element of the Renaissance. In either case, the artist's long, productive lifespan covered a critical era.
Rome, Capital of the Renaissance
As the Italian courts of Milan, Naples, and Florence tussled over which was the most powerful, the Roman popes Julius II (1503-13) and Leo X (1513-21) offered hospitality to a group of artists from these leading principalities. The first significant arrival was that of Donato Bramante (c. 1444-1514), following his fruitful stay in Milan at the court of Ludovico il Moro, a rich cultural environment where he had made the acquaintance of such artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Luca Pacioli (c.1445-1517). In 1504, Julius II gave Bramante the task of organizing the reconstruction of the basilica of St Peter, which was to be centralized around a large cupola. Bramante had already adopted the design of a round sacred temple (tempietto) at San Pietro in Montorio (1502), which is a revival of the early Christian martyrium (church built in honour of a martyr). In 1506, the pope laid down the first stone of the new Vatican basilica and, in the same year, the antique sculpture known as Laocoon was discovered in a vineyard on the Esquiline hill. This depicted the myth of Laocoon, a Trojan priest who, with his two sons, was crushed to death by snakes. Such discoveries presented exciting new challenges for artists. The young Michelangelo had already grappled successfully with some of these in his sculptures of Bacchus (1497) and David (1501-04), and in certain ways with his Pieta (c.1498-1500). now in St Peter's. The draw of Rome was such that Florence found it hard to keep its most brilliant artists in the city, even though Leonardo's unfinished Battle qf'Anghiari briefly adorned the Council Chamber of the Republic in the Palazzo Vecchio. Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina on the opposite wall, but got no further than preparing a full-size cartoon for the project before being summoned to Rome bv Julius II in 1505.
By 1477 Bramante had left Urbino for unknown reasons andhad settled in the northern Italian province of Lombardy. He worked on frescoes for the facade of the Palazzo del Podestà(later altered) in Bergamo showing classical figures of philosophers in a complex architectural setting. Vasari (though poorly informed on this period) says that Bramante, after working in various cities on “things of no great cost and little value,” went to Milan “to see the cathedral.” The cathedral workshop, in which Italian, German, and French craftsmen worked by turns, constituted an important centre for the exchange of knowledge, planningmethods, and techniques. Moreover, Milan was a large and wealthy metropolis, the capital of a state ruled by Ludovico Sforza, called Il Moro, and Renaissance architecture was a commodity to be imported. Thus the city represented an opportunity for a young and up-to-date architect like Bramante.
The first architectural work that can be definitely attributed to Bramante is a design: a print made in 1481 by a Milanese engraver, Bernardo Prevedari, from a Bramante drawing representing a ruined temple with human figures. About the same time, Bramante was working on the church of Sta. Maria presso S. Satiro, the first structure definitely attributed to him. Along with a certain adherence to local taste, this church shows traces of the influence of Alberti, Mantegna, Brunelleschi, and the Urbino school. This last influence is particularly evident in its choir, which was painted in perspective to give an illusion of a much larger space. Perhaps from the same period (c. 1480–85) is Bramante's decoration of a room in Casa Panigarola in Milan (fragments in the Brera, Milan) that consists of architectural settings and the figures of men at arms rendered by means of illusionistic perspective. Similar experiments, perhaps also in the same years, seem to have been carried out by Bramante on the facades of buildings, such as Casa Fontana, later called Silvestri, in Milan.
In 1488 Bramante, along with a number of other architects, was asked by Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, brother of Ludovico Sforza and bishop of Pavia, to draw up a new plan for the cathedral of Pavia. Bramante went many times to that city during this period, and it was probably under his direction that the crypt and the lower portion of the building were executed.
Bramante appears to have had close relations with Leonardo da Vinci. In 1482 Leonardo had visited Milan from Florence, and in 1490 both Bramante and Leonardo were occupied with stylistic and structural problems of the tiburio,or crossing tower, of the cathedral of Milan. From 1487 to 1490 a number of mutual exchanges can be documented. The only written evidence of Bramante's ideas on architecture goes back to this time (1490) and consists of a report on the tiburio problem. Bramante examined various solutions (among them one of his own, a square plan), demonstrating a conception of architecture remarkably like that of Alberti.
Bramante by now enjoyed the favour of both Ludovico and Ascanio Sforza, as well as that of influential courtiers. His modest salary and the irregularity of payment, however, did not allow him to live luxuriously. He came in contact not onlywith artists but also with Humanists and poets of the Sforza court, and he himself wrote verses. Like Leonardo, he was involved in the staging of spectacles at the Sforza court, such as one on the occasion of a baptism in 1492.
Architecture increasingly dominated his interests, but he did not give up painting. Of the many works attributed to him by various 16th-century writers, however, none seems to have been preserved. The only extant easel picture that has ever been attributed to him is the “Christ at the Column” (“Cristo alla colonna”) of the Abbey of Chiaravalle (c. 1490, now in the Brera, Milan). A fresco in a complex architectural setting (c. 1490–92) in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan is probably his, with the collaboration of his pupil Il Bramantino.
Starting in 1492, Bramante was entrusted by Ludovico and Ascanio Sforza with the reconstruction of the canonica (rectory) of S. Ambrogio in Milan. The work was interrupted by the fall of Ludovico, and, though it was resumed in the 16th century, only one side of the building was executed. Though Bramante's responsibility cannot be proved, the idea for the new tribuna (chancel) for Sta. Maria delle Grazie probably originated with him; destined to be the burial mausoleum of the Sforzas, the tribuna was in an overall project of reconstruction, begun in 1492, for the entire church. Bramante also may have planned the painted decoration of the interior, but the execution and the clarification of details, particularly on the exterior, were probably done by Lombard masters.
Bramante's activities in the 1490s, before he left Milan finally for Rome, are sporadically documented. It has been conjectured that in the summer of 1492 he was in Florence studying the work of Brunelleschi, in view of the emphatic Brunelleschian character of the S. Ambrogio canonica. In 1493 he made a report on certain fortifications on the Swiss border for Ludovico.
His last few years in Lombardy were marked by the restless activity that characterized the remainder of his career. He was probably responsible for the designs of the piazza of Vigevano (carried out between 1492 and 1494, partly transformed in the late 17th century), of the painted architectural decoration on the arcaded facades that markedits limits, and for the designs of other structures of the Vigevano complex, as well as the painted decoration (which has disappeared) for the interior of the castle of the same city. His covered passageway (ponticella) for the Castello Sforzesco in Milan must also be from this period, and the facade of the church of Sta. Maria Nascente ad Abbiategrasso (near Milan) dates from 1497. Between 1497 and 1498, in addition to a chapel (later altered) of S. Ambrogio in Milan, he worked on the Cistercian Monastery being erected in Milan under the auspices of Ascanio Sforza; like his work on the canonica, it was suspended in 1499 and is unfinished.
Endowed with an extremely receptive character, Bramante was by no means immune to the influence of other artists active in Milan. He was also influenced by his study of Lombard monuments dating from the late ancient and Carolingian periods, the memory of which was to be useful tohim in Rome. Conversely, Bramante's presence (together with Leonardo's) in Milan was of fundamental importance for the later artistic developments in that city.
Bramante probably remained in Milan until Ludovico was forced to flee before the city was occupied by the French in September 1499. Bramante appears to have been active from the first in Rome on a variety of projects, such as a painting (now lost) at S. Giovanni in Laterano celebrating the Holy Year 1500. As under-architect of Pope Alexander VI, he probably executed the fountains in Piazza Sta. Maria in Trastevere and in St. Peter's Square (later altered) and served on several architectural councils. It is probable that inthese years he had reduced his activity as a designer and was devoting himself to the study of the ancient monumentsin and around Rome, even ranging as far south as Naples. In the meantime, he had come in contact with Oliviero Carafa, the wealthy and politically influential cardinal of Naples, whohad a deep interest in letters, the arts, and antiquity. Carafa commissioned the first work in Rome known to be by Bramante: the monastery and cloister of Sta. Maria della Pace (finished 1504). Bramante seems to have been engaged in 1502 to begin the small church known as the Tempietto in S. Pietro in Montorio, on the site where St. Peter was said to have been crucified.
The election of Pope Julius II in October 1503 began a new phase in Bramante's work—the grand, or mature, manner. Almost immediately he entered the service of the new pope, one of the greatest patrons in art history. Bramante became the interpreter, in architecture and city planning, of the pontiff's dream of re-creating the ancient empire of the Caesars (renovatio imperii). Bramante planned gigantic building complexes that adhered as never before to the idiom of antiquity. At the same time, the buildings often represented an unbiased, personal, and contemporary interpretation of that idiom.
Perhaps as early as 1505, Bramante designed the immensecourtyard of the Belvedere, extending the nucleus of the older Vatican palaces to the north and connecting them with the pre-existing villa of Innocent VIII. Though the work was carried forward with great speed, the scale was so large that on the death of Julius II, in 1513, and of Bramante himself, in 1514, it was still far from completion. The project, which continued throughout the 16th century and later, suffered so many changes that today Bramante's concept is almost unrecognizable.
Beginning in 1505, at first in competition with two other architects, Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra Giocondo, Bramante planned the new Basilica of St. Peter in Rome—his greatest work and one of the most ambitious building projects up to that date in the history of mankind. The first stone was placed on April 18, 1506 (after Bramante's first plan had been rejected by the Pope, according to a contemporary). The project's site had to be cleared first of the old, crumbling Basilica of Constantine. Bramante's part in its demolition earned him the nicknames of “Maestro Ruinante” or “Maestro Guastante”—“Master Wrecker” or “Master Breaker.” At the time of his death the new construction had scarcely begun totake shape.
Named general superintendent of all papal construction, a well-paid office, Bramante was not only the Pope's principal architect and the engineer at the service of his military entprises but also his personal friend. Concurrent with his work on the Belvedere and St. Peter's, Bramante presented Julius with a highly ambitious plan for the complete remodelling of the Vatican palaces, which was, however, set aside.
Despite the grandiose scale of the St. Peter's undertaking, Bramante continued to work on lesser projects. Between 1505 and 1509 he carried out an enlargement of the choir of the church of Sta. Maria del Popolo, some construction work in Castel Sant'Angelo, and a remodelling of the Rocca di Viterbo. In addition, in 1506, as a military engineer, he accompanied the Pope to Bologna (where the grand staircase of the Palazzo degli Anziani has been attributed to him).
About 1508, when Julius II's new city plan for Rome began to be put into effect, Bramante played an important role as architect and town planner. Within the framework of an organic plan, the Via Giulia (from the Ponte Sisto to the Vatican) was laid out with a large piazza that was to constitute a centre of activity for the city government; the Via della Lungara (from the Vatican across Trastevere to the river port installations of Ripa Grande) was begun; the Via dei Banchi, on which were erected the offices of the most important banks of the time, was widened at the entrance of the Ponte Sant'Angelo; and several streets in the old structure of the medieval city were modified. On the Via Giulia, Bramante designed a huge new Palazzo dei Tribunali (1508), incorporating the church of S. Biagio (1509, also by Bramante). The structure is notable as a model for 16th-century architecture.
Within the framework of Bramante's overall plan, the basin of the port was dug out, and a marine fortress was built at Civitavecchia. The west facade of the Vatican Palace (now the side of the S. Damaso courtyard) was also constructed according to his design, though it was later taken up and completed by Raphael. Around the year 1509, Bramante probably furnished a plan for the church of Roccaverano, whose facade anticipates certain solutions of the late 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio.
Another noteworthy design was that of the Palazzo Caprini (House of Raphael; later destroyed) in the Borgo, which became the model for many 16th-century palaces. This palazzo was later acquired by Raphael. According to Vasari, Bramante, around 1509, had designed the architectural background for the “School of Athens” by Raphael (1508–11;Vatican, Rome), and in return, Raphael represented Bramante in the fresco in the guise of Euclid.
After the death of Julius II, Bramante, though elderly and perhaps in declining health, remained in favour under Pope Leo X. According to a late and uncertain source, in 1513 he presented to Leo X an audacious water-control plan for the city, designed to avoid the periodic floodings of the Tiber. At the end of 1513, however, when consulted about the cathedral of Foligno (S. Feliciano), he was too ill to accept thecommission and died the following year. He was buried in St. Peter's, carried there, according to Vasari, “by the papal court and by all the sculptors, architects, and painters.”
Personality and interests
Even though he was called unlettered (as were Leonardo, Julius II, and others), probably because he was ignorant of Latin and Greek, Bramante must have acquired considerable learning, however fragmentary. His contemporaries esteemed him not only as an architect and painter and for his knowledge of perspective but also as a poet and an amateur musician. He had an almost fanatical interest in Dante. He also wrote some 20 sonnets on amorous, humorous, and religious themes, and, though somewhat crude in style, they are full of spirit.
His theoretical writings, apart from his report on the tiburio of the Milan cathedral, have all been lost, but their subjects are indicative of his interests; e.g., works on perspective, on the “German manner” (i.e., on Gothic architecture), on fortification methods, and others.
Bramante seems to have been an extrovert. He was said to be very friendly to persons with talent, and he did much to help them. Humour, irony, a taste for intelligent jokes, and mockery of himself as well as others often appear in his sonnets. Full of faith in himself, he was an irreverent person who took pleasure in proposing paradoxical ideas. He was critical of priests and courtiers but also capable of deep religious feeling. In the treacherous atmosphere of courts, he was able to manoeuvre skillfully. He must have been highly ambitious and not overscrupulous when it came to securing an important commission. His biographers emphasize his impatience and speed in the conception and conduct of his work (Vasari calls him a “resolute, rapid, and excellent inventor”). This quality was combined with imaginative genius and an artful and lively curiosity. His insatiable thirst for experiment and for new knowledge forced him, as Bramante himself remarks in one of his sonnets, to “change himself” continually (“as time changes in a moment / my thought, its follower, changes too”). This trait of instability and inconstancy seems to have led him away from convention in his works to a multiplicity of attitudes and expressions. Perhaps these characteristics indicate a certain dissatisfaction, an inner melancholy, or a deep sense of solitude. He apparently never married or had children. In unceasing experiments in his work, he may have been seeking a remedy for his incurable restlessness.